Hello again, Brothers and Sisters of the Psychotronic Video World! I’ve got another fresh screener today, so pull up a chair and we’ll take a look. Now, “tooth fairies” have become a surprisingly common critter in horror as of late – 2003’s DARKNESS FALLS, 2008’s HELLBOY II, 2010’s DON’T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK, and most terrifying of all, the “Tooth Fairy” franchise starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Larry the Cable Guy. We can now add 2012’s THE HAUNTING OF HELENA to the mix. Let’s take a looky-loo, shall we?
Here’s a quick synopsis for y’all:
After a divorce, Sophia moves to the south of Italy with her daughter, Helena. Their new home, an apartment within an austere building of the fascist age, should be the safest place for them to start a new life. But there is nothing safe here. After the loss of Helena’s first baby tooth, a chilling obsession begins and an apparition haunts her sleep. Dreams become nightmares. Nightmares become reality. As Sophia finds herself in a terrifying fight to save her child while maintaining her sanity, a tale is uncovered that could barely be imagined. HAUNTING OF HELENA will keep you at the edge of your seat as it slides in agony along the sharp blade of psychological terror.
The fear of one’s teeth breaking or falling out is a very common one, I think – I know I have severe, recurring nightmares about my gums going gooey and my teeth falling out, violent ones that send me hurtling out of bed in search of the nearest mirror to check that everything’s in place. This vague sort of odontophobia gave me the squirming heebie-jeebies throughout watching this film.
Despite my heebie-jeebies, I did really enjoy this film. I thought it had some really impressive ideas and went in fascinating directions with them – the exploration of who the “Tooth Fairy” is, and what she does with the teeth she takes is a fascinating one, for example, and delves into themes of vengeance, the notion of punishing children for the sins of their fathers (in this case, the “fathers” being the strict authoritarianism of Italy’s Fascist regime) and old ideas of sympathetic magic – that what’s done to a part is reflected in the whole, the principle upon which Voodoo dolls are alleged to work. Because after all, what does the tooth fairy want all those teeth for anyways?
A psychological thriller, THE HAUNTING OF HELENA very nicely handles the notion of the events of the film taking place entirely in Sophia’s head, and does so without swinging too far in either direction – the events are neither so clearly in her head nor so clearly “real” that the game doesn’t work, and the audience (at least, me) are very much left wondering how much of this is actually happening, and how much relates to Sophia’s family history of mental illness.
The one thing I wasn’t overly-keen on with the film was the color palette – The colors throughout the film appear faded and grayish, I think to evoke a sense of looming “deadness” in the events of the film. It reminded me heavily of the outdoor sequences in the film version of SILENT HILL. That same sort of ashy filter over the world. I can see what they were doing, and I don’t dislike it per se — but I feel like it was done out of a fear that the film would not seem bleak enough on its own merits.
Overall, I enjoyed the film and would recommend it – at times it felt like an attempt to follow in Guillermo del Toro’s footsteps – with themes of dark fairy tales, an authoritarian father figure as a root of problems, and a young girl in a heroic/perilous position, there were echoes of a less-fantastic version of PAN’S LABYRINTH or DON’T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK in this film, though it does take pains to stand on its own rather than rely solely on evoking the emotions of older successful films. THE HAUNTING OF HELENA hits VOD on June 18th, 2013, and select theaters on June 21st.